Why You Should Consider Fading Adrian Peterson in 2014
There are three things that we have come to accept as truth the last few years: My Little Pony Tales will be cool, men's Uggs will not, and Adrian Peterson will wreck worlds in fantasy football. It's just how the universe operates.
But, as with the dynamic plot twists on My Little Pony, things don't always remain as they were in the past. He's entering his age-29 season, which is AARP-esque for the modern-day running back. It's time to start asking whether or not Peterson can maintain the production that warrants a top selection in a fantasy draft.
As it stands right now, Peterson is being taken as the third-highest running back, according to MyFantasyLeague.com, behind LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles. To find the next player that is 29 or older, you have to jump all the way down to the 17th ranked running back, Reggie Bush. Basically, he's a bit of an outlier right now in terms of age.
But this is Adrian freaking Peterson we're talking about. He had more than 2,000 yards less than a year after tearing up his knee. He doesn't age like your average human because, simply, he isn't your average human. So let's go inside the numbers to try to see if we should expect a decline from our boy AD.
Throughout this puppy, I'll be talking about Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is a numberFire-specific stat that tracks the number of expected points added by a player each time he touched the ball. For running backs, this number will always be lower because running is generally less efficient than passing. A third-down back would have a better chance at having a high NEP because the situations they are used in are more friendly to NEP. So, we'll try to keep Peterson within a realistic context.
For running backs, we have a few other things we can look at. One thing is Rushing NEP, which tracks the number of expected points a player added when they ran the ball. Reception NEP is the same except looking at receptions instead of rushes. Total NEP is just the sum of all of these suckers (including passing, in case they decided to channel their inner-Tim Tebow). We can (and will!) also look at Success Rate, which is the percentage of times a player had a positive NEP on each individual play. Make sense? Cool. Leggo.
The Case for Believing in Peterson
Raise your hand if you've scored 10 rushing touchdowns in each of your first seven seasons in the NFL. Nadie? Cool. Glad we sorted that out.
The guy is basically a production machine. In every year in which he has played at least 14 games, he has had at least 1,266 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 4.4 yards per carry. That's a career year for most guys. Peterson does it on the reggy.
From a fantasy perspective, his consistency is ridiculously stupid. In every single year of his career, including the ones in which he has sustained injuries, he has finished in the top eight of all running backs. In the years where he hasn't sustained an injury, he has been in the top three in every instance. As long as he remains healthy, these numbers would make you think that he would do the same this year.
Then you add in the Norv Effect. It seems like everybody and their brother believes that Peterson will be more active in the passing game this year with Norv Turner now calling the plays. Peterson has only caught more than 40 passes once in his career (43 in 2009), and that was when Brett Favre was slangin' leather all over the place. If he were to see an inflated role in the passing game, Peterson's fantasy value would inflate with it.
On top of all of this, Peterson has the third-highest FireFactor on our fantasy football cheat sheet. I trust the algorithms that the homies at headquarters make more than I trust myself, so that would provide me some confidence in picking AD for this year.
So that's all fine and dandy, but it's also all in the past. What does the future hold for AD2K? Well, that's not as sunny of an outlook.
The Case for Skepticism
While all of the stats above indicate that AD's good to go, numberFire's NEP stats aren't as optimistic.
Below is a chart of the top players last year in Rushing NEP. The column that says "Rush NEP/P" is for Rushing NEP per Play. As you can see, although Adrian did have another great year last year, he wasn't one of the top three backs in the league.
|Player||Rushes||Rushing NEP||Rush NEP/P||Success Rate|
You may notice that there's a fairly precipitous drop-off from the top five to Peterson and the others. There were a total of 22 running backs last year that had at least 200 carries; Peterson's Success Rate was 15th among those 22.
What does that mean? It means that a large chunk of Peterson's positive NEP came on a handful of individual plays. Remember that 78-yard touchdown against Detroit? Yup. That was probably worth about five or so points on Peterson's NEP. He had another 60-yard touchdown later in the year. Is that sustainable for a 29-year-old?
The thing about these numbers for Peterson is that they don't mean much without context. He did still produce last year despite not having the greatest NEP numbers. What would matter is if those numbers were on the decline from previous years. The chart below is a look at some of his NEP stats throughout his career.
|Year||Rushes||Rushing NEP||Rush NEP/P||Success Rate|
As you can see, Peterson's NEP numbers have never been dazzling. There was a dip last year, but how many guys wouldn't see a drop after having one of the greatest seasons of all time?
There are a couple of objections I would have to people throwing out the NEP numbers simply because he has never really excelled there. First, his Success Rate was the lowest of his career a season ago. They're not on the chart, but he had Success Rate in his first two years was 42.26 and 42.58 percent respectively. And these are stats that are unaffected by the fact that Peterson played only 14 games last year; they're rate stats. They still don't paint a positive picture of Peterson's future.
Second, the Success Rate is particularly concerning when you consider his age. As he ages, what's one physical skill Peterson will lose? His speed. Now, there are a ton of things involved with a long, gut-breaking run. You need vision, moves, and a healthy dose of Bieber-esque swag, and Adrian probably won't lose all of those as quickly. But speed still plays a large factor when you're trying to sprint away from a large pack of bros that are chasing you.
Third, age matters, especially for running backs. Since 2005, there have only been seven individual seasons in which a player in his age-29 season or older has posted 200-plus fantasy points. if we push that back to 2009, there has only been one since then. The last player 29 years or older to have more than 200 fantasy points was Michael Turner in 2011. That doesn't give me a whole lot of confidence in AD2014.
I can hear the Vikings fans screaming at me already: "AD is different." Yeah, he is. He's a physical freak. That doesn't make him immune to aging.
Another guy who was "different" was LaDainian Tomlinson. In his age-29 season, he had a career-low 1,110 rushing yards after averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. Like Peterson this year, this was just two years removed from one of the greatest seasons by a running back in NFL history. Tomlinson ranked either first or third in fantasy points every year from his age-23 season to his age-28 season; as a 29-year-old, he finished seventh.
At this moment, I don't know which back I'd take if I were in a position to select the third-best one in a fantasy draft. I just think that the ceiling on Peterson is too low to make him a viable option at that selection. Now, if you're in a league that has a bias against guys with stupidly-toned biceps and he slips to you as the seventh running back, then I'd hop all over that. I just don't see myself taking him as high as he's being taken right now, despite what the algorithms say.